Greeted by the sweet smell of Subway sandwiches, a $7 airport smoothie, Taylor Swift over the loudspeaker, 3 degrees and snow, and a TSA guard named Busby, I’M BAACCKKKK in America. Surprisingly happy to be here for now and particularly excited by fridges stocked with organic/healthy yummies and lots of gf options. Also, Trader Joe’s <3 <3.
But hey, what a f***ing YEAR!! The immediate days following I’m feeling extremely grateful for the experiences and the people. Also feeling anxious for what being a digital nomad on my own will be like. Feeling very lucky and also feeling very tired. And still feeling very proud, this year was NOT easy.
Fast Facts (that are actually entirely my opinion):
- Favorite RY city? Ok people, impossible to choose just one. Top 5: Lisbon, Cape Town, Chiang Mai, Medellin, Kuala Lumpur
- Least favorite city? Tie between Hanoi and Lima. Both I would recommend visiting, but they were my toughest months.
- Favorite side trip? Easter Island
- Favorite foods? Pad thai (and anything from Thailand) and AREPASSSS
- Best Remote Year accommodation? Medellin, balcony overlooking the city. Followed by the Santiago mansion.
- Describe the year in three words? Transformative. Amazing. Exhausting.
- Most expensive month? Japan
- Cheapest month? Vietnam
- City with the most attractive men? Cape Town
- City with most attractive women? Medellin
To build off my mid-year list, here are some other things that this year has taught me:
- I/we are incredibly lucky to travel on a US passport. One of our group members has an Israeli and a Turkish passport and she had a nightmare of a time leaving Bali because of all the restrictions for where she could fly in and out of. Heck, she was in Bali because she couldn’t get in to Malaysia at all and had to spend the month away from us. The only place I needed a visa was Vietnam and even that was just an online process.
- Netflix is different in every country. Was very excited to find Fresh Prince of Bel Air in Peru and was…entertained…to watch ‘My Husband’s Penis Won’t Fit’ a series in Japan.
- So many new fruits! Grenadilla, lychee, durian (blah), chirimoya, rambutan, the list goes on…
- Graffiti is widely used as a way to revitalize a city. Street art was found in almost every place we went but notably, Communa 13 in Medellin, Valparaiso in Chile, and Kuala Lumpur seemed to develop with the artwork. Sadly, this is partly true because tourists come for the Instagram photos. It would be fine except that’s usually all they come for, ignoring the culture, the people, and the area’s local development.
- Clean air/not polluted air is not a given. Mexico City, Lima, and Hanoi were noticeably worse to me.
- Paying bills at restaurants with big groups over and over is annoying. Apps that help: Splitwise, Tables (by Splitwise), Venmo
- PDA varies greatly around the world. In Latin America, damn, everywhere: in the park, on the train, on the back of moving vehicles, in a restaurant. In Asia, specifically in Japan, RARE. I can picture friends running up to each other and not hugging, just standing a foot away and waving.
- Sand flies bites are way worse than mosquito bites. SO itchy and we all have scars.
- Food delivery is a thing. Never used it in the states but we got to Tulum and were lost without it. Rappi, UberEats, Grab, you could have food to you in a matter of minutes at times. Side note: my most ridiculous Rappi was a hair straightener that I got in 30 min.
- Sometimes you just crave a CVS or a Walgreens where you can get toothpaste and ibuprofen and a birthday card all in the same place.
- Holidays are just not the same without family. The only time I was realllyy homesick all year was during the week of Christmas. Next year will be extra sweet.
- A million and one ways to manage anxiety.
- As much as we try to control our lives, there’s some things you just can’t control. I almost slid off a cliff in a van and almost got T-boned on the freeway in a van. I broke a bone jumping off a cliff which could have been a lot worse, and I got hit by a car on a bike which also could have been a lot worse. Shit happens.
- You may make your closest friends later in the journey. Ok, this was true in college too, but yeah.
- Google Maps’ custom maps are great for marking and sharing your favorite locations in a city. Remote Year has a global map that you can layer over yours with lots of food spots and activities. Our group would also build them in each city based on the recommendations of the local city teams.
- Travelling for a year doesn’t have to ruin your fitness routine (but it will challenge it). I maintained a pretty solid 5/6 day a week gym routine! Doesn’t mean I didn’t gain weight because heck, food is part of experiencing a place. But I’m bueno.
- Fear for safety is not (always) a reason not to travel. And now that I’ve been everywhere I have, I have fewer fears about it. Just gotta travel smart.
- You never fully appreciate people until you are away from them, be that a week, a month, a year. On the other hand, you learn who cares about you most.
- Tinder dates are great for fun activities with locals. Want to play soccer somewhere? Go for a cool hike?
- Digital Nomad starter pack:
- Google Fi- phone plan, if you do it right, you can get on a family plan for unlimited data
- Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card- no foreign fees, lounge access, lots of travel points
- Charles Schwab debit card- no atm fees
- Portable charger- I like my Anker one
- For girls, Athleta Salutation Stash Pocket Leggings. Game changing.
- Passport with enough empty pages and an expiration date greater than 6 months
- I may never be able to travel without lounge access again. I know, privileged.
- Sure each country has their own unique struggles, but on the whole, we all suffer from the same things. Sexism, racism, classism, all found everywhere.
- Cost of living just varied so much. And it was almost allll cheaper than the states. Except Japan.
- My passport number. Memorized.
- I appreciate countries like Japan for their rule following, but at the end of the day, I just wanna eat a snack in a store as I please. It got to be a bit much.
- Mexicans eat 12 grapes as fast as you can while making wishes on NYE
- Whatsapp has super helpful location tools. You can share your live location for different amounts of time and send your location once/’drop a pin’. Clutch for meeting up with people and staying safe on local dates.
- Venezuela refugees are affecting almost all of South America. It is really sad to be forced out of your country, and it was interesting to see the varying levels of reception by neighboring countries. The poverty some Venezuelans are experiencing is hard to witness, but they are beautiful, kind people.
- Weather plays a huge factor into how much I like a place. Hanoi was sweltering hot and hard to enjoy, Medellin and Cape Town had beautiful sunny days. Also, natural light in a living space is important to my well-being.
- Google Translate is your best travel friend. I especially relied on the camera feature in Asia that allows you to hover your phone over a block of test and it translates on the spot. Highly imperfect, especially in Japan, but sometimes that is all you got.
- If you’re arriving back to certain American airports from abroad, download the Mobile Passport app and pre-check. It will save you a huge customs line.
- Writing a blog every week and curating photos is a lot of work. But something tells me I’ll be happy to have these memories documented.
The last 6 months of this journey were equally as rewarding as the first. In Japan, I travelled all over with my dad to make the most of a week-long rail pass to Tokyo, Hiroshima, and my favorite Matsumoto. I was sick in bed for a week and had the biggest challenge avoiding gluten, but appreciated Japan’s uniqueness. Malaysia was maybe the biggest surprise of the year, bringing diversity, amazing rooftops, memorable new people, and lots of outdoor activities. And some damn good food. Santiago wasn’t the most dazzling, but I enjoyed the mountains surrounding the city, living in a mansion with 15 people, and just living like a local downtown. That month also brought my favorite memory of the year: my side trip to Easter Island.
After a quick and early exit from Chile to escape the protests and tear gas coming into our apartment, I spent the month Lima, or should I say Li-meh. We had possibly the best tracks weekend sandboarding and riding on buggies through the dunes of Huacachina. I ate a lot of yummy food, enjoyed morning runs along the cliff walk in Miraflores, and helped build a house. Medellin stole my heart in December with its perfect 80 degree, sunny weather, its constant reggaeton, and its beautiful landscape.
I lived in my favorite accommodation, on the 13th floor on the top of a huge hill (that I had a love/hate relationship with) with some amazing roommates. My love for arepas was confirmed, and I know I will be back to the city someday. Month 12 in Mexico City was bittersweet. It was the only month I didn’t side trip, to make ample time for hangs with Parea, a visit from family, and preparation for post-RY. While I didn’t enjoy the poor air quality and water, I ate enough tacos for a lifetime, enjoyed the electric bikes, and made some great memories with the group. And in a special month 13 edition, I worked a week from the beach in Tulum, Mexico, surrounded by half my group. It was a slow goodbye!
When I set out on Remote Year, I had no real plan. Because I knew I would be out of a job after three months on the program, I relied on the idea that I was joining a network of people who were doing what I wanted to do long term and something would work out. I chatted around and monitored the RY job board but what saved me were Lindsay and Parachute Health. Lindsay happened to be looking to hire around the time that I was looking and the role excited me for the chance to develop more technical skills and better use my mathematics background. We negotiated a three month contract that turned into six months that’s now a full time remote role. I could not be more grateful for her and the company. Not only am I living the lifestyle I was after, I am a part of a really amazing team, building a software that is making a difference in patients’ lives, and I’m really loving it! On the work side alone, this year was life changing.
It goes without saying that I saw a lot of cool stuff and experienced many amazing things. BUT, it would not have been the same without the 22 people I did it with. I knew none of them before, and I am just happy none of them were psychopaths. But in all honesty, they are my closest friends now. And while we will have reunions in the future, it will never be the same again with all of us travelling together. I am now left in a strange transition where I have to accept that we all are going different ways and be thankful for the time that we did have together. At least I’m confident that I will see everyone again on the road. Ahhh, what am I going to do without 20 friends to do things with me all the time?? What will it be like to not have a calendar filled with pre-planned activities?? Guess I’m going to find out. Already miss them all a lot.
I could write a novel on the year, but I want to close with a thank you. Thank you to my Parea for sharing in the highs and picking me up through the lows. I think I have thanked everyone individually, but truly wouldn’t have been the same without all 22 and the other members. Thank you to my family for supporting me from afar and letting me do this crazy journey (although, let’s be real, they had no choice). Thank you to the friends who have followed along and sent encouraging messages (and read this blog!!). Look ma, I made it!
I am spending a couple weeks with cousins in Colorado before heading back to the east coast. They are seriously THE BEST, making me feel comforted, well-fed, and free to be a total mess if I need to be with my emotions. Also I forgot there’s a reason I love it here so much and have visited five times. The mountains, the people, the clean air are AMAZING.
My Remote Year by the numbers:
- 364 days…but actually
- 35 flights
- 32 turned 22 Pareans/best friends
- 30 jars of peanut butter (maybe more)
- 16 tacos (in one night)
- 12 countries
- 11 currencies
- 9 incredible non-profits
- 8 main languages
- 5 continents
- 4 water bottles (kept losin’ em)
- 2 jobs
- 2 Parea-bod challenge victories #humblebrag
- 1 travelling blue cooler (@stanley_the_world_traveler)
- 1 rescued dog
- 1 broken vertebra
- 1 25kg piece of luggage
- 0 stolen phones/wallets or bouts of food poisoning (haters will say it’s fake)
A million memories, photos, challenges, tears, new people, hikes, life lessons, fruits I didn’t know existed